Readers continue the popular thread:
I just read your “recent keeper” about Dusty. I am so sorry. It brought back a lot of memories of my beagle, Toby, who left us in July two years ago. She was also experiencing an age-related decline of health (she was 16) and I , too, was challenged on when was the “right time”. Without going into details that may add to your burden, I can only say that Toby, in her way, told me when it was the right time. I had hoped for three more days so our daughter could come home from college, but it wasn’t to be.
Remember you may be crying not only for her but for all the other loves in your life who have passed. When Toby passed, a part of me thought “Whoa, where are all these tears coming from”. But I realized they come from a deep down place where I was grieving for my parents, family members and pets.
During the past 12 months I’ve lost my mom, my dad, and my dog. It’s been the year from hell – so much death, and all at once. We rescued Chewy from a shelter and he instantly became my best friend. He died at age 7 – so fucking soon – due to a rare cancer. In the nine months since then, every day I mutter aloud, “I wish Chewy were here.” Dogs nudge themselves into our lives in such a way that they become family, and even in the wake of my parents’ deaths, my mumbles and daily griefs center on that brown and white friend, which makes me wonder if I’m focusing on him at the expense of grieving for my parents. Were he still here, I just know he’d have silent wisdom to share with me on this godawful year.
I’ve had to put down several pets who were very dear to me. Each time, when that day arrived, I knew it was time. Either my pet was obviously suffering or it was apparent that the body was shutting down (but not quickly enough) and it would be cruel not to intervene. Meanwhile, other than one case of sudden illness, all of my pets have enjoyed lengthy golden years. My wife and I provided each with extra creature comforts as the various needs of old age presented themselves. I always knew that waiting another day would have brought needless physical discomfort.
I should add that my Christian faith helps soften the blow of a pet’s passing, since I believe the Resurrection and New Creation will, of course, include animals. And, as long as animals are along for the ride, why wouldn’t that lot include our animals?
I’ll leave you with this:
I was once told a story (a true story, I might add) of a stodgy, old professor at a Christian seminary (think John Houseman’s Kingsfield in The Paper Chase). Students generally gave the guy a healthy buffer in the hallways, and they avoided asking him questions during lectures, if it could at all be avoided. However, a student once dared to approach the grumpy theologian and ask him if he thought that our pets would join us in Heaven. The professor arched his eyebrows and stared at the student as if he were crazy; and then replied: “Of course pets will be there! It wouldn’t be Heaven if they weren’t!”
I’m in my mid 20s and went home this year to visit my parents for Easter. They have been tending to their two beagles for a few years, since my youngest sister went off to school. We got the dogs in the late ’90s, so even for beagles they were getting up there. One was a runt we got from a breeder as a Christmas gift, and the other was a severely abused and malnourished rescue dog we got after the local paper did a story about our town’s animal shelter and he was on the front page, cowering in the back of his cage.
This Easter, the beagles weren’t doing too well. Both were over 15 years old. They had been loyal companions but were sick – the rescue, Gramps, had had a tumor on his neck growing at a terrible pace since around Christmas. It was nearing the end for him, and my parents had planned on taking him to be “put down” the following week, as he had begun showing signs of suffering and couldn’t hold down food or water, and his breathing was so impaired that he hadn’t slept in days.
So my parents and I, three nonbelievers, sat down to a little informal Easter breakfast this year, and our Gramps came barreling downstairs into the dining room just as we began to eat our eggs. He was wobbly, like a drunk on his way out of the pub. We were all confused and startled, but Gramps stumbled into the room and fell in a heap under our dining room table. He breathed heavily several times, wagged him tail a bit, and expired as we all knelt at the edges of the table, still in shock to see him moving so quickly. He was gone, just like that.
I am the first to have a laugh at the silly, cheaply sentimental things of our culture. And I think the notion that “everything happens for a reason” is absurd. But that experience made me consider that perhaps these animals have something to teach us, even if they don’t know it. I firmly believe Gramps used the last ounce of strength he had in him to be near us in his final moments.
We had to put our 15-year-old lab to sleep last year because of internal bleeding. She was so tired she could barely walk. I looked in her eyes and just knew it was time. You will too. I have found that the best way to remember them is to eventually adopt another dog. It takes a while to find a suitable dog, but rescue is the best! These sweet dogs always remember that you saved them … or maybe they save you.
(Top photo from a reader: “One late esteemed hound and his successor”)